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Wednesday, October 17, 2007      New: Take a Stand

U.S. military: Al Qaida a 'defeated force' in Anbar

BAGHDAD The U.S. military said Al Qaida has been defeated in Iraq's largest province.

Officials said Al Qaida's network in Iraq's Anbar province was incapable of major operations. They said U.S. and Iraqi military operations, combined with improved intelligence from Sunni residents, have eroded the Islamic insurgency movement.

"There are still attacks in Faluja and surrounding areas," Col. Rich Simcock, a senior officer from the U.S. Marine Corps 6th Regimental Combat Team, said. "We have not killed or captured every single Al Qaida member that's here. But their capabilities are greatly diminished. I would characterize them as a defeated force."

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The U.S. statement came during continued Al Qaida strikes around Baghdad. On Tuesday, at least two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices were detonated near Iraq Army and police installations in which at least 10 people were killed, Middle East Newsline reported. On Wednesday, another seven Iraqi police officers were reported killed in an IED strike southeast of Baghdad.

Simcock said Al Qaida has been largely eliminated in his area of operation in Anbar. For more than three months, he said, Al Qaida has been unable to "conduct any type of concerted efforts to prevent us from doing the things that we want to do within AO Raleigh."

Officials attributed the Al Qaida defeat in the border province to the U.S. surge strategy in Iraq. They said the U.S. military succeeded in recruiting Sunni tribes to identify and fight Al Qaida operatives in Anbar and Baghdad.

"The four major tribes around Faluja we've been able to have the leaders of those tribes come back," Simcock told an Oct. 15 briefing. "A lot of them had fled Iraq because of murder intimidation from Al Qaida. They fled to Syria and Jordan. We've been successful in getting them to come back because the security situation allowed that, and that has been a tremendous benefit for us."

Officials said U.S. counter-insurgency operations in Anbar have facilitated the coalition offensive against Al Qaida in Baghdad. They said the reduction in the Al Qaida influx in Baghdad has reduced Sunni-Shi'ite violence in the Iraqi capital.

"The only AQI [Al Qaida in Iraq] that we see, we see a little bit in our Sunni enclaves, but we mostly get them when they're in the VBIED because the Shia are the targets in the marketplaces," Col. Jeffrey Bannister, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, said.

Over the last four months, the Al Qaida network throughout Iraq has also been significantly eroded, officials said. But they warned that Al Qaida remains strong in the Diyala province and the so-called Triangle of Death south of Baghdad.

"I think that they significantly have been crippled," U.S. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway said. "I think that's a fair word. I would not say destroyed, I would not say eliminated. Are they still dangerous? Absolutely, and certainly they are not destroyed."

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